27 December 2014
SUMMARY: Keepers at Chester Zoo have embarked on their annual head count of every animal at the zoo, which houses over 400 different species. Thousands of animals, many of them endangered, are part of the compulsory count which is required by law as part of the zoo’s licence. The vital details of each and every individual are noted down so that the zoo can help worldwide breeding programmes. And as Chester prepares to open the biggest development in UK zoo history in spring, it has been a particularly busy year and a host of new exotic species need to be added to the records. (Photo: Herpetology keeper Heather Prince with a dead leaf mantis).

Keepers at Chester Zoo will welcome in the New Year armed with clipboards and pens as they make a note of every single animal in their care.

The compulsory count is required as part of the zoo’s licence and every creature, from the most handsome lion to the most bizarre-looking beetle, is duly totted up.

Over 11,000 animals were recorded at the last census. But, as the zoo prepares to unveil a £30m expansion in 2015, staff have their work cut out this time around with a whole host of exotic new arrivals to add to the records.

The new development, called Islands, is the biggest in UK zoo history and will recreate habitats from the Phillipines, Bali, Sulawesi, Papua, Sumba and Sumatra. Thousands of animals – including bizarre species like dead leaf mantids, Javan humphead lizards and tentacled snakes – have already arrived at the zoo ahead of its opening next spring.

Aquarium team manager Andrea Swatman with one of Chester Zoo’s tentacled snakes

Herpetology keeper Heather Prince said:

Tallying up our new super-sized Asian forest turtles doesn’t provide us with too much of a headache but trying to count the hundreds of stick insects or dozens of mantids is a bit more of challenge!

The zoo’s records coordinator Liz Ball, responsible for compiling the data, added:

Records at the zoo are regularly updated to allow for any births, deaths, departures and arrivals – with every animal having a ‘passport’ detailing exactly who it is, where it was born and who its ancestors are – ensuring the best possible management of vital worldwide conservation-breeding programmes.

But it’s all hands on deck as keepers help double check the data with a full head-count – a process which zoos must go through by law in order to comply with the Zoo Licensing Act 1981.

With so many new animals coming in to take up residence in our new Islands development, we’ve got an even bigger challenge than usual. Dozens of new species have arrived well in advance of its opening in spring 2015 and they’re already breeding well. It means there are a heck of a lot of new heads to count – with the hundreds of weird and wonderful bugs being the trickiest!

It’s an incredibly exciting time for the zoo though and, even though there’s a lot of extra work, it’s really nice to be able to add all of the wonderful new arrivals to the count.

Notes to editors

  • The count is a process that zoos have to go through by law in order to comply with the Zoo Licensing Act 1981 and utilise the keeping staff to help in the process
  • 2013 was the first year in which Chester Zoo added all of its insects to the count
A vampire crab waits to be counted
All that counting is a little tiring for one of Chester Zoo’s Asiatic lionesses
Chester Zoo’s curator of lower vertebrates and invertebrates, Dr Gerardo Garcia, with an Asian forest turtle
Herpetology keeper Heather Prince with a male Hercules beetle
Herpetology keeper Philippa Carter-Jones with a one-week-old Borneo eared frog
Keeper Hayley compares the number of meerkats to the previous year at Chester Zoo’s annual animal count
Keeper Karen Neech counts Chester Zoo’s Humboldt penguins. The zoo has a colony of 42
Keeper Matt Cook tots up the golden mantella frogs at Chester Zoo
Keeper Rachel McNally makes a note of praying mantis numbers during Chester Zoo’s annual animal count
Keeper Rachel McNally makes a note of praying mantis numbers during Chester Zoo’s annual animal count (2)
One of 30 dead leaf mantids joins the count
Ring-tailed lemurs line up for the annual animal count at Chester Zoo
Stick insects prove a real handful for keepers during Chester Zoo’s annual animal count